If you don’t think animated movies can be taken seriously, DC is trying to change your mind.
Adding to a plethora of DC Universe animated films, Son of Batman is an adaptation of Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert’s story that added one of the most unique characters in Batman’s publication history: Damian Wayne, the sort-of-legitimate-sort-of-illegitimate (depending on which issue you read) son of Bruce Wayne and Talia Al Ghul. The story tells the tale of Deathstroke’s crusade of vengeance, which leads him to kill Ra’s Al Ghul at the beginning of the film, and leading Talia to bring Damian to Bruce, supposedly thinking he’d be safer with him.
If you’ve read Morrison’s Batman and Son, you might be thinking that this doesn’t sound too similar to the comic. You’d be right. There are several differences, such as the absence of Tim Drake’s Robin (or the acknowledgement of a Robin other than Dick Grayson), the role of Deathstroke as the focal villain, and the death of Ra’s. These differences may be the kiss of death to certain comic purists, but the main themes of the story are still there. The primary conflict is one of ideologies, Damian being a precocious brat born and raised to be a heartless assassin, and Bruce having a strict no-kill principle. That’s what makes the story interesting, and thus, it’s what gets more screen time. Halfway through the movie it’s almost difficult to remember that Deathstroke is still out to get Damian’s family, and that there’s a subplot going on with Kirk Langstrom, but that’s not altogether a bad thing. The story itself isn’t supposed to be about Deathstroke; that’s just the backdrop that makes Damian and Bruce’s meeting a reality. The true story is about how the Caped Crusader adjusts to being a father, and how the grandson of Ra’s Al Ghul reacts to having his precious little kingdom shattered.
It’s a serious theme for a serious movie, although the film tries a little too hard at times to separate itself from the “kid movie” pigeonhole. This presents itself in some unfortunate ways, including a discussion between Talia and Bruce about the night that led to Damian’s conception, consistent cleavage from Talia’s dress, and even a couple uses of mild expletives. While landing on the safer side of the PG-13 rating, the viewer can be left with no question that the film’s content earns it.
But for its faults, the film does manage to bring a serious tone, and is relatively easy to take seriously. Animated films, even in the more serious vein, need to be approached with a bit more room for extrapolation of reality. Taking that view, the only thing that stands out as exceedingly unrealistic for a comic book film is deflecting bullets with swords. I can buy Ra’s doing that because, after all, he is kind of a supervillain in his own right, but Damian? You need superpowers to be able to justify a pre-teen kid pulling that off.
But still, the film comes through. It may not break any top ten lists, and probably doesn’t warrant more than a RedBox rental unless you’re a die-hard Batman fan, but it still works as an enjoyable film. A large part of that is due the voice talent. While long-time DC animation fans will be disappointed to find an actor other than Kevin Conroy voicing the Dark Knight, it works for what it is, and the other voice talent lends itself to the medium quite well. Stuart Allen nails Damian perfectly, and the other voice talent, including Thomas Gibson (Agent Hotchner, Criminal Minds) as Deathstroke and Morena Baccarin (Inara, Firefly) as Talia makes it come together better than you’d think an animated movie should.
In all honesty, it’s a lot of flashy action sequences without as much depth as some father-and-s0n stories offer. But perhaps the most important part of the narrative is the most overlooked – that Damian manages to conform to his father’s ethics. Damian’s story has been intriguing for so long primarily because it’s one that truly delves into the decades-old debate of nature versus nature. Can Damian overcome years of nurturing violence? Is he destined to be a killer? Is that in his nature? Or can his father, through discipline, love, and dedication help him to overcome that side of him? The film would have us believe the latter, which brings great hope to us that we can overcome our darker sides. And whereas Bruce is limited by his rather rough parenting skills, we have a perfect Father to help us in our journey. That’s worth being reminded of.